Project Talent is an AIR-designed national longitudinal study that first surveyed America’s high school students in 1960. At the time, it was the largest and most comprehensive study of high school students ever conducted in the United States. Over 400,000 students from 1,353 private, parochial, and public schools from every corner of the country and all economic, cultural, and social backgrounds participated in a two-day battery of tests and questionnaires.
The study followed the students, collecting new data at 1, 5, and 11 years after their high school graduation to better understand what experiences and influences helped prepare them for careers and life after high school. Additional studies focusing on racial disparities, economic mobility, and twins continued until the original participants were in their 40s.
As study participants move into retirement, Project Talent has become a resource for understanding the aging process, allowing participants to continue involvement in this remarkable and historic study. The National Institute on Aging, for example, has funded several studies, including the Project Talent Aging Study, a major life course study that is providing information about age-related brain and cognitive changes by following 22,500 of the original Project Talent participants.
Understanding early life factors that contribute to the retention or deterioration of brain and cognitive functioning in older age can help policymakers determine targets for health promotion interventions. Project Talent, with its unique size, demographic diversity, and comprehensive data from 1960 and beyond, offers an unprecedented opportunity to understand the factors that influence the aging process.